Donald Trump’s grandparents came from a place known locally for the boastfulness of its villagers. It’s a characteristic not infrequently linked with the US property billionaire.
Whether Donald Trump is making slanderous remarks about Mexican immigrants, being rude to journalists or exposing his lack of knowledge on international politics, the Republican hopeful has certainly shaken up the 2016 US presidential race – and he’s riding high in opinion polls.
The antics of the bombastic billionaire real estate tycoon are being carefully followed in Germany – and nowhere more so than in the wine-making village of Kallstadt, in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, from where Trump’s grandparents originally hail.
The New York property magnate with the infamous hairstyle is well known here, also because some of the villagers are distantly related to him.
And what do the inhabitants of Kallstadt think of his goal of becoming the most powerful man in the world?
“I think they find it quite exciting, but in typical Kallstadt fashion they’re not really that impressed,” says Simone Wendel.
Born in Kallstadt herself, Wendel has made a tongue-in-cheek documentary about Kallstadt and its famous children, who also include the Heinz ketchup family.
Incidentally, the Heinz family is connected to the Democratic Party, as Teresa Heinz Kerry is the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
In Kings of Kallstadt, Trump, who knows no such thing as false modesty, announces that he would have been no less successful if he was living in Kallstadt.
So although there’s a lot of respect for the achievements of the family, there’s also a feeling that Trump “is a bit of a loudmouth,” according to Wendel.
In addition, she adds, Kallstadt itself is known locally as “Die Brulljesmacher,” or in other words “the show-offs” – it may surprise few to know that Trump comes from a village known for its boastfulness.
The Trump family success story began in 1885, when his grandfather emigrated to the United States and opened a pub for gold miners. The founding stones of the Trump property empire were parcels of land in New York. But the lives of Trump’s grandparents were not without tragedy.
Their wish to return home permanently was refused by the Bavarian state, to which Kallstadt then belonged, because he had left without approval, according to Roland Paul, director of the Institute for Palatinate history and folklore.
Donald Trump is the grandson of “illegal emigrants,” says Paul, who is interviewed at the beginning of Wendel’s film.
That puts Trump’s inflammatory descriptions of Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists” and his demand that a wall be built along the Mexican border, as well as his questioning of President Barack Obama’s citizenship status, in an interesting light.
“The way he blusters on isn’t that pleasant,” says Hans-Joachim Bender, a distant relation of Trump’s. “My grandmother was born a Trump, my grandfather was a Heinz.”
The retired winegrower is happy to view Trump from a distance: “He’s always so short-tempered.” He might do well among the Republicans but they’re people “who’ve started wars,” he adds.
Does he think Trump might visit one day? “I can’t imagine it,” says the 72-year-old. “He’s never cared about Kallstadt.”
When a descendant of the Heinz family visited, they donated something towards a collection for the church organ, notes bed-and-breakfast owner Veronika Schramm, a move that went down well with the locals.
“I can’t imagine Donald doing that,” says the 68-year-old. His cousin John has visited and he was very nice, but Trump is a bit of a redneck and a show-off, she says.
It would be better if he didn’t win the election, she continues, because “he has such radical views, I don’t know if that would be a good thing.”
If someone like him had been in charge in his grandfather’s time, “he’d never have arrived” in the US, says Schramm.
Winemaker’s daughter Sarah Buehler is also unimpressed by Trump: “There are more interesting topics than him.”
And as a president? “He’s not my president,” she says. “The grapes will ripen without President Trump.”
The village has much more contact with the Heinz family than the Trumps – not just because of their church organ donation, but also because Heinz descendants have visited relatives several times, according to the mayor, Thomas Jaworek.
Trump has never been. “If he came, I’m sure we’d be really pleased. And if he came as president, we’d feel even more honoured,” says Jaworek.
But the US election campaign is a long one and Trump is a polarizing figure – Jaworek says he isn’t sure if the US is looking for someone like Trump, but in view of the tensions with Russia perhaps they do want a strong man.
It will be interesting to see what happens and he has his fingers crossed for him, says Jaworek.
And Simone Wendel? About 12,000 people saw her film, for which she spent a long time interviewing Trump, and now there’s interest in it in the US. It was first shown there in September, at a festival.
But she doesn’t know if Trump has seen it yet. “When I go over again, I might pop by,” she says.